by Charlie Brooks, CMRO Contributing Writer
Written by Greg Pak, Art by Aaron Lopresti
Published: April 2007
This is it, ladies and gentlemen. The Incredible Hulk, volume 3, #103 marks my single favorite Hulk comic of all time. This issue, marking the end of the Planet Hulk: Allegiance arc, contains all the action, romance, tragedy, and internal conflict that mark the Hulk as a character. It also has one of the more touching moments in the Hulk’s long history as we bear witness to the wedding of the Incredible Hulk.
The wedding of the Hulk, you ask? How does an event come about? Let’s dive right in and see the development as the Planet Hulk arc comes one step closer to its conclusion.
The issue begins with the return of Bruce Banner…well, sort of. As of the end of the last issue, the Hulk was letting the spike elders feed on him, draining him of energy and satiating the otherwise deadly spikes as a result. At the opening of this issue, it has been seven hours of straight feeding, and even the Hulk is left a little drained. Covered by a blanket to hide the effects of the draining, he temporarily reverts to Bruce Banner and tells Caiera that as long as the spikes feed on “him…I mean me,” nobody else dies. The moment lasts but a few panels before the Hulk is back to his old self, and Caiera doesn’t realize that anything has happened due to Banner/the Hulk being covered the whole time. What we do learn from the event is that, unlike when Banner last showed up in “Banner Wars,” he no longer seems intent on leaving Sakaar. In fact, he seems to be generally supportive of the way the Hulk is doing things.
From there, we see how King Hulk manages his new realm. He fights off supporters of the Red King, then has to deal with dissent in the Warbound, as Elloe and Miek begin fighting with one another over the rights of Elloe’s pink-skinned race and Miek’s endangered bug-like humanoids that suffered so long at the hands of the “puny pinkies.”
The Hulk’s solution is to bring the fight into the Great Arena, which is unfortunate timing, as the battle begins just as the shadow elders of Sakaar arrive to discuss a new alliance. The shadow elders conclude that the Hulk’s rule will be more of the violence and rage that they saw under the Red King. The Hulk, though, has his own way of doing things. Just as the battle is about to break out, the Hulk crashes into the arena himself and attacks both the pinkies and the bugs. Forced to fight side by side or get smashed by the Hulk, the two races are made Warbound, ending their feud. The shadow elders, all set to condemn the Hulk, are suitably impressed by the way he turned enemies into allies, even if they were only united by the threat of the Hulk himself.
This scene is one of the core elements of the Hulk: he knows how to rage with the best of them, but he usually uses his anger productively, fighting evil rather than just blindly smashing. It’s not a perfect way of doing things, but it is what makes the Hulk a tragic hero rather than just a tragedy.
The Hulk then meets with the shadow elders, who offer up Caiera to serve as the Hulk’s bodyguard. The Hulk responds no – he doesn’t want a bodyguard. “I want a queen.”
And now we see the culmination of the Hulk’s flirtations with Caiera that we have witnessed since the very first issue of this tale. Meeting alone in Caiera’s chamber, the Hulk and Caiera undergo a wedding ceremony. They sit together, they hold their hands over flame, burning together, and then Caiera asks the Hulk to reveal all his secrets to her. Hesitant at first, the Hulk finally does so, transforming back into Bruce Banner. Bruce tells Caiera, “You asked, so the Hulk let you out. He wanted you to see him. All of him. All of us. All of me.”
While Banner hasn’t been around much during Planet Hulk, what we have seen of him is powerful, with this instance possibly being the most emotionally powerful of all. In honoring Caiera’s request, the Hulk is accepting that he is in fact Banner at his core.
In Banner’s explanation, he first refers to the Hulk as “him,” then as “us,” then finally as “me.” The instances of the Hulk and Banner accepting each other as the same rather than as different entities are fleeting and rarely last for long, but here we see them truly united.
Even more rare than the Hulk and Banner accepting one another is somebody else accepting both of them rather than seeing one side as a hero and the other as a curse. But that’s just what happens when Caiera kisses Banner, accepting the secret of who he truly is. In mid-kiss, Banner transforms back into the Hulk, and the two are happily married. If you don’t feel a tug at your heart strings when reading this scene, you might need to call a doctor and make sure your heart is still there.
If we wanted a happy ending to Planet Hulk, we’d stop there. Unfortunately, we all know that happy endings rarely last in the Hulk’s life. And as our issue closes, we find that two of the Hulk’s companions, Miek and the Brood, and getting together themselves. While they are trying to find a secluded place away from prying eyes, they come across the shuttle that brought the Hulk to Sakaar and accidentally turn on the well-meant but ultimately stupid explanation video from Reed Richards and company that caused the Hulk to smash up the shuttle and go off course in the first place. Miek, worried that the Hulk is missing his calling by embracing peace and love, seems intent on showing the Hulk that video and stirring up his rage once again.
As I said before, this issue offers up a little bit of everything that makes the Hulk who he is. We have the complex relationship between the Hulk and Banner. We have the Hulk using his rage to do something productive. We have a love interest who has earned her place among the Hulk’s supporting cast. Finally, at the end, we have the dark reminder that, as a creature of rage, the happy times in the Hulk’s life will always be tragic. The Incredible Hulk #103 stands as my favorite issue of the Hulk, and I would go so far as to suggest that it’s one of the best single comics Marvel has put out in its long and storied existence.